13 Dec Amy Brandhorst, Interior Designer at Black Label Properties
With a love of modern architecture and a German grandfather, it’s no surprise that Amy Brandhorst wanted to spread her wings after graduating and move to Berlin. In despair at the Brexit vote and seeking a new challenge, she jumped at the opportunity to join Black Label Properties as its resident ‘Remainer’. 18 months later, Amy is an Interior Designer at the agency and has made a life for herself in the city she now calls home.
Amy is full of insight into how to furnish your apartment in the German style, the best areas to invest, and how to make it within the creative industries. Read on for her advice on finding your niche and starting a new life abroad.
Getting out of your comfort zone
I flew into Berlin the day before I started my new job at Black Label. At the same time, I had to find a flat, and I started a German language course which was four nights a week. I was also trying to keep up with my interiors blog on the side, not to mention having a social life and settling in a foreign country! My biggest challenge was learning to juggle multiple things on my own. On reflection though, I’m glad I did it as I learned to be resilient and have come out of the other side. I know a lot about property and interiors now and am feeling positive about my future in Berlin.
My German has improved since I’ve been here and I’ve noticed that I speak more fluidly now, although I’m by no means fluent! I’m confident with my written German and enjoy reading it too.
Putting in the work
My role at Black Label Properties has changed a lot. In the beginning, I was Press & Marketing Assistant, helping with the website and blogging and then I dabbled in sales. Now I’m working on business development and rebranding, as the personality of the brand has changed. I helped to redesign our new company brochure and wrote copy for the website. Over the last year, I’ve come to realise my passion lies in the design side of the industry so have been exploring this more and taking on new projects.
We’ve also started working with Jazz Radio Berlin on a show called → The Property Minute as an expert commentator on housing matters, so I’ve been helping with that by sourcing prizes for a competition we’re running on the channel. They are homeware related – e.g. a high-end sofa, so it ties in nicely with my interiors work.
On finding inspiration in Berlin
I love Dorothy Draper’s original style in the early 1900s – she was anti-minimalist and went crazy with colour – she just did what she wanted! I like the simple, functional aesthetic of Bauhaus design too. Zaha Hadid and Frank Lloyd-Wright are also iconic designers. In Berlin, I find inspiration just walking down the street. I love the modernist buildings and the old shop fronts and bars that haven’t changed since the 1980s, the eastern tower blocks and the mid-century interiors. It is a montage of clashing shapes and designs, so there’s always something new to look at. Berlin is this crazy little world cut off from reality in many ways. It has somehow managed to maintain the bohemian lifestyle and has, to a certain extent, resisted capitalism, which is part of its charm.
The trend for furnished apartments
I recently started developing → Furniture Packages for our clients. Furnished apartments are becoming more popular with investors because they can command a higher rent each month from the tenant.
Having a furnished apartment saves the client a considerable amount of time, money and effort. I design the concept, find furniture and organise the delivery. Their apartment will be prepared and ready for a new tenant to move in to – without them having to lift a finger! It’s a better deal for clients, as they end up with a furnished apartment and a tenant.
There are three design packages to choose from: Basic, Mid-range and Luxury. The basic package is 5,999 EUR; retro Mid-range 10,999 EUR and the Luxe offering is 17,999 EUR. I talk to the client and find out what they want, they send me a floorplan, and I measure up the rooms. I source furniture ranges online, create a mood board and send it back to the client. Once they have approved the design, I order the goods. Furniture can take 6-8 weeks to deliver, so it’s not a quick job, but I’m excited that we can offer this as part of the service at Black Label Properties.
On finding a mentor
My mum is a property journalist, and so I grew up with interiors and property magazines around the house – a great inspiration! I have a couple of older friends who are further along in their careers than me, so they’ve been there to give good advice. Also just reading about how people in the industry have got to where they are, is good to use as guidance. I’ve learned a lot about growing a business by watching Achim – he’s been there to give me advice too.
I’m currently co-running an → interiors blog and design service in London with my friend who is based there. It’s grown a lot since we started it and we recently won a → blogging award, so it’s a satisfying project to have on the side where I can learn more about the industry.
The best bits of my job and the most challenging
I love the change and variety at Black Label. Berlin is always in flux, so it’s an exciting place of history, art and self-expression. I like modern architecture, and there’s lots of inspiration here. I enjoy nosing around different neighbourhoods as part of my job and checking out the vintage markets. Seeing so many different types of apartments is giving me plenty of ideas for how I’d like to decorate my own place when I buy it!
I helped source additional staff to help with press and marketing because the business is growing. Demand from international clients is high, and we’ve just opened an → office in Hong Kong to cater for our Chinese clients. It’s a relaxed working culture here, and everyone chips in and does stuff, but we are stretched at times. It’s been fantastic to have the opportunity to launch the interiors service but it can also be stressful, as it’s a big project and I’ve been doing it on my own.
On being better off in Berlin
I have made a life for myself here so have no plans to leave, but it’s taken me a while to get settled. I know Berlin better than London now in so many ways, mainly because I’ve had to do it all myself rather than relying on my parents. I threw myself into the job, and my role has grown. I’m doing what I enjoy and earning more now. Berlin is an exciting city, transient and full of possibilities; I’m always meeting new people, and you never know where that will lead.
I have a better lifestyle in Berlin. I live in a lovely, modern loft style apartment in Kreuzberg, the centre of the city. We each pay 457 EUR per month which includes all bills and a cleaner, so compared to London rents, it’s a bargain. Kreuzberg is a hip neighbourhood – there are loads of bars, eateries and independent shops within walking distance, so there’s always plenty to do. It’s also very green so quite relaxing, and I’m five minutes’ walk from the women’s only Hamman in Marianenstrasse – the first one in Germany! It’s a fantastic space to unwind after work.
Transport is cheap, and I can afford to eat out regularly whereas dining out in London is ridiculously expensive. Some of my friends there still live at home and can’t afford to eat out. In Berlin you can pay 12 EUR for a good bottle of wine in a restaurant; you can eat out cheaply in trendy bars and feel like you are doing something nice for yourself. In time, I would love to buy an apartment and rent out a room, but I need to act soon as prices are rising (and I am witnessing this first-hand!). I’m in the right job for that, and unlike London, owning your own home feels doable in Berlin.